So, I am not quite sure what drove me to purchase A Series of Unfortunate Events. I assume I was bored and had just seen the film adaptation. What I do know is that the book has languished at the bottom of my Kindle for quite a long while. That being said, while trolling for a book last week I happened upon it once again and chose to read it over the countless other titles that have been waiting as long or longer. I was intrigued by the title and premise, which suggest a quirky story along the lines of a Dr Seuss tale. Unfortunately, and while adequately quirky, this story epitomises the old adage that you should not judge a book by its cover (read: title).
Narrated by one Lemony Snicket (the pen name of the author), the story is that of three newly minted orphans who are shipped off to be under the care of a distant cousin, Count Olaf. The book begins on an incredible note, with a warning from Snicket: “I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant…. In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast”. Obviously the villain is Olaf, an actor who lives in a ramshackle house, and is the perpretator of the plot to steal the children’s fortune. From the beginning it is obvious that Olaf has designs on the large estate left to the children by their wealthy parents. However, the inheritance has been left in trust until Violet, the eldest child, comes of age, and is therefore not his to abuse as their legal guardian. Upon learning this, Olaf drops his friendly facade and begins working openly to steal the orphan’s inheritance.
I have to admit that I really want to like this book. It is joyously written and the characters are superb. From the very beginning I especially enjoyed the character Lemony Snicket, who is “considered something of an expert by leading authorities” (on what I do not know) and was apparently born “in a small town where the inhabitants were suspicious and prone to riot”. My appreciation of Lemony Snicket (as a character and writer) has only grown since reading more about him on the internet. The other characters are also great. From his ludicrous monobrow, to his massive and unclean lair, to the weird tattoo on his ankle, Olaf is the perfect cartoon villain. The children are also well constructed, what with Violet the leader and natural inventor, Klaus the “bookworm”, and Sunny who loves to bite things, they are pretty much the perfect crime fighting team. The central concept of orphans stranded with a dirty charlatan is also a classic, and does not disappoint. What does disappoint, however, is the follow through. The story builds very good momentum during the first two-thirds, and you really come to hate Olaf, love the children and expect an incredible showdown. However, the showdown never really arises. The story just peters out. There is no payoff for all the time invested.
I understand that I am nowhere close to the intended audience for this story, and that children might find the long build up and zero payoff acceptable entertainment. However, upon reading it, is obvious that the author is attempting to join the same league as Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss and even Morris Gleitzman. Therefore, it should be judged along the same standards. And to be honest most of it is there; the wit and charm, the story and the characters. But what Dahl, Seuss and Gleitzman all can do is finish a story well. You finish one of their books and you are both sad (that it has ended) and satisfied. All I felt was sadness at the end of The Bad Beginning. I want my time back.
Author: Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Pages: 176 (Paperback)
Josh’s Rating: 2/5
Amazon Link: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning